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Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. H. Darwin   18 October 1874

Trin. Coll. | Camb.

Oct. 18. 74

My dear Father,

I have received this morning a very flattering letter from Spottiswoode asking me if I will give a Friday evening lecture at the R. I. between Xmas & Easter.1 He begs me to answer at my liesure & says ‘I feel confident you wd. succeed’ & asks me to fix my own subject— I am rather non-plussed what to say,— as to the success I’m by no means so confidt.   In the first place I wd. not lecture unless I thought I’d something worth lecturing about; but I’ve an impression that the Polit. Econ. which I am at work on now wd. do— the only objection to it is that it is rather stiff & I have attended eno’ lectures there to feel sure that anything that is really stiff is not adapted to that audience.2 I am sure all the ladies often come away with the sort of feeling that they’ve been doing something virtuous but with no distinct ideas whatever—in fact with the general sort of feeling which the ‘bumming away’3 of the parson is apt to inspire. I think then that a lecture shd. be down to the audience, also those lectures are rather expected to be amusing. I shd. certainly not be able to say all I have to say on the subject in a lecture—as it wd. be too hard; but it wd. not prevent my writing it with additions in the Contemp4 afterwards. I am getting more & more convinced that what I have to say is worth saying & I have been working 4 or 5 hrs a day at it & reading a great deal.

Another subject I have thought of is that furnished by my dress article.5 It is exceedingly condensed in McMillan & I have a good deal more to say on the subject, & I think it wd. be amusing with numerous actual examples & copies of old drawings—so that it wd. not be a mere reproduction of what I then wrote. The only question is, is it below the dignity of the place? I am inclined to think not, as it certainly serves to bring home evolutional ideas in a very intelligible form to many persons who wd. never grasp it in a more recondite shape. I feel more inclined to give this as I think it wd. be much easier to do well, the idea that one cd. do it well wd. add to the power of doing it well. Then too a lecture to be a perfect lecture shd. not be a mere essay, which the Political Economy wd. be—& the showing of models & pictures are to a lecture very much what chapters are to books.

Lastly there is the important health consideration— I feel sure that however I am, I cd. get thro’ it, & with my present prospects I have a reasonable hope of getting thro’ with nothing more than a sleepless night & a little upset of digestion. You may remember that Dr. Clark6 advised me not to give up dining out because it upset me a bit, but persevere & fight it out.

Lastly (Number 2) one of the great objects in life is to learn to know oneself, & I shd. like to know whether I can lecture. If I fail, I shall “begin with shame to take the lowest room”,7 & it will be good for me to learn what I’m worth; & if I succeed, well—I shall more cocky but I shall feel it tant mieux8 & shall know that I’ve one more power. I shall be glad too to help the R. I to success.

I shall be very much interested to hear what you think of all this, & if you recommend no, shall almost certainly take yr advice.

That was a pleasant letter of Innes’— but I’m afraid the Ffinden affair is all moonshine;—for curiously eno’ Cookson mentioned to me a v. curious case about the Deptford living wh. has come before him. 30 yrs ago the patron sold the living to a Mr. ffrench for 1000£ (Sketchly then being incumbt.), he then in ’73 having forgotten all about the sale sold it again to a cheese monger in Tottenham Ct. Rd. for £2000, since Sketchley was then 80 yrs old.9 In ’74 the double sale was discovered the cheesemonger had of course no right— Sketchley suddenly dies & the cheesemonger posts down to Dr.s Commons & presents Dr. Vaughan10 a broad churchman (connected with the St. Geo. in the last note11 you may remember) Now Mr. ffrench had intended to present his nephew, but the nephew12 does’nt like the living as he’s another in his eye— Sketchley however being dead & no one presented the living ca’nt be sold without simony.13 Thus ffrench has an unsaleable property on his hands for which he has no use— the cheesemonger has no right but is very anxious to present Vaughan & the ex patron is prepared of course to reimburse the 2nd. purchaser his money— so they’re at a dead lock.

It is proposed by Cookson that they ffrench shall go to the Bishop & say you want Vaughan put in— well I’ll let it lapse & you shall present him if you’ll agree to the cheesemonger, myself & the ex-patron squaring accts., but if you wo’nt I’ll present some one you do’nt like. This wo’nt be simony!! but none of the parties will be defrauded of what is just as much property as an acre of land. Ffinden has no chance of getting it & Vaughan is almost certain.

I have been having rather a relapse the last few days, with some of the old irritation in the stomach, but whilst making me pretty uncomf. it does’nt take away my strength & I played an hr hard a tennis in the morning & 12 an hour in the afternoon yesterday. If I’m not decidedly better on Wedn. I shall telegraph that I’m not coming to Abinger— my chief reason for accepting was to show Effie that I like coming14—& then horror! they’ve a dinner party on Wedn.—& the tiresome long rail journey rather knocks one up.

I’ve not seen Maxwell yet but I fancy I cd. work an hour every day in the laboratory if I can find anything to do alone—15 I shd. work 5 to 6 or 3 to 4 or both.

The polit. econ. is engrossing me very much now & takes a deal of reading. I’m readg Musters Patagonian book too.16

F Balfour sailed for S. America yesterday & I caught a sight of him on Friday, when we or rather they, the Balfours, celebrated his departure in a bottle of champagne at luncheon with me. He’ll be back in the spring & go strt. to Naples, he says he cdn’t get sharks there at this time of year: Huxley spoke in the very highest terms of his original work— he was an examiner.17

I’ve been pd. my £20 for the May exam today.

Sorry to hear Jim is seedy—18 I hope you’re passably well again

You’re affec son | G H Darwin

I’m sending a heap of American introdns. to L. in a day or two.19


George refers to William Spottiswoode and the Royal Institution of Great Britain. The Friday evening discourses were begun in 1825 by Michael Faraday for Royal Institution members and their guests, and by the 1850s they were formal affairs with the audience wearing evening dress. They lasted one hour, became a major public forum for announcing scientific work, and were widely reported in the press (James 2002).
George was working on his paper ‘The theory of exchange value’ (G. H. Darwin 1875d), published in the Fortnightly Review in February 1875.
Bumming away: to ‘bum’ means to hum loudly or boom (OED).
Contemporary Review.
George’s article ‘Development in dress’ appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine in 1872 (G. H. Darwin 1872).
Andrew Clark.
Luke 14:9.
Tant mieux (French): so much the better.
The letter from John Brodie Innes has not been found, but in the letter from Emma Darwin to J. B. Innes, 12 October [1874], Emma stated that George Sketchley Ffinden might leave his post as vicar of Down to take up the position of vicar of St Nicholas, Deptford, which had become vacant on the death of his uncle, Alexander Everingham Sketchley. George also refers to Montague Hughes Cookson; Mr Ffrench and the cheesemonger have not been identified. The sale would have been of the advowson, the right of a patron to present to the diocesan bishop a nominee for appointment to a vacant ecclesiastical benefice (living). On the sale of advowsons in the nineteenth century, see Chadwick 1970, 2: 207–13. John Robert Gregg became vicar of St Nicholas, Deptford, in 1875; the patron of the living throughout the 1860s and 1870s is listed as T. T. Drake, who has not been further identified, and the living amounted to £557 per annum (Crockford’s clerical directory).
Doctors’ Commons was a society of lawyers practising civil law in the ecclesiastical courts in London; George probably refers to Charles John Vaughan.
The note has not been found; Vaughan was vicar of St George’s, Doncaster, 1860–9 (Crockford’s clerical directory).
Ffrench’s nephew has not been identified.
Simony: the buying or selling of a benefice (Chambers).
Abinger Hall was the home of Thomas Henry Farrer, who was married to Emma Darwin’s niece Katherine Euphemia Farrer, known as ‘Effie’.
James Clerk Maxwell was Cavendish professor of experimental physics at Cambridge from 1871, and was in charge of the development of the Cavendish Laboratory, which opened in 1874.
George refers to George Chaworth Musters’s book At home with the Patagonians (Musters 1871).
Francis Maitland Balfour had been at the Zoological Station in Naples earlier in the year (see letter from Michael Foster, 7 April [1874]). Thomas Henry Huxley was Balfour’s examiner for his election as natural sciences fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, on 17 October 1874 (ODNB).
Jim was Horace Darwin’s nickname.
Leonard Darwin was with the British astronomical expedition for observing the transit of Venus, and was stopping off in America on his way back from New Zealand (see letter from Emma Darwin to J. B. Innes, 24 June [1874]).


Chadwick, Owen. 1970. The Victorian church. 2d edition. 2 parts. London: A. and C. Black.

Chambers: The Chambers dictionary. Edinburgh: Chambers Harrap Publishers. 1998.

Crockford’s clerical directory: The clerical directory, a biographical and statistical book of reference for facts relating to the clergy and the church. Crockford’s clerical directory etc. London: John Crockford [and others]. 1858–1900.

Darwin, George Howard. 1872. Development in dress. Macmillan’s Magazine 26: 410–16.

James, Frank A. J. L. 2002. ‘Never talk about science: show it to them’: the lecture theatre of the Royal Institution. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 27: 225–9.

Musters, George Chaworth. 1871. At home with the Patagonians: a year’s wanderings over untrodden ground from the Straits of Magellan to the Rio Negro. London: John Murray.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.


Has been invited to lecture at the Royal Institution by Spottiswoode. Discusses subjects he might deal with and his reasons for attempting it.

Tells of a complicated case of a double sale of a living.

Huxley says F. M. Balfour passed brilliantly.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Howard Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Trinity College, Cambridge
Source of text
DAR 210.2: 41
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9683,” accessed on 29 October 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22